All over Billings, people are grumbling about the state of public schools because when the doors close, and the community is left out, everything that goes on inside is a secret. But what if there was some way for them see all of the brilliant things that are happening in there? Introducing Bragging on Billings. This initiative is designed to bring out the best of BPS by hi-lighting innovative teaching and learning and telling the stories of those who are making it happen.
Here’s how it works: We unlock the doors through digital tools and social media. We let observers in. We let the people with the loudest, most positive voices shout the awesomeness from the rooftops of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and beyond. Messages feature teachers who are inspiring their students to continue learning beyond the classroom, students who are excited about what and how they’re learning, principals who lead with a mission, and community stakeholders who feel pride in the citizens they support. That’s Bragging on Billings - because the secret world that’s happening inside needs to be let out!
This lady is one of my technology super-heroes. Julie Schopp, 2nd grade teacher extraordinaire at Newman Elementary School, is the epitome of a success story. After teaching for several years, Julie took off some time to raise her family, then returned to the profession. She has been teaching for a total of 20 years, and one might think, after all that time, that she has earned the right to be in the "comfortable" phase of her career . . . but it's quite the contrary. Julie is not just one of the most enthusiastic teachers I've seen, but she's also among the most innovative.
When the wave of 1:1 devices first started washing over Billings, Julie decided that she wanted to ride that thing. A generous friend of hers agreed to partner up with her and help fund a couple of iPads, and she found a couple more on Craigslist. Also around that time, she stumbled upon Donors Choose, which is "a nonprofit organization that allows individuals to donate directly to public school classroom projects." Through the creative use of this program, Julie was able to successfully fund the remainder of her iPads. The fun didn't stop there, though! She continued to use Donors Choose to add to her classroom collection - Chromebooks, shelves, a charging station, and more.
Julie doesn't just use technology for technology's sake; she seamlessly integrates devices, apps, sites, and resources into what she is already teaching, and has found that they have not only enhanced her lessons, but taken them to a whole new level. According to Julie's principal, Travis Niemeyer, "Julie continues to make large strides in technology use for her students' success. She does not shy away but faces that disequilibrium we all feel with technology advancement. She is very aware that when we engage kids in authentic learning opportunities, kids flourish. That is the ultimate goal...to engage kids so they can flourish academically."
Click here to check out my interview with this tech superstar!
Allow me to introduce a fantastic teacher: Mark Kane, who rocks 1st grade at McKinley Elementary. This is Mark's fourth year in Billings Public Schools, having taught for a year in Laurel prior to that. I first met Mark on October 21, 2009, back when he was a substitute teacher. You might find it weird that I remember that . . . and let me say that it would be, were it not for my Google Calendar. At the time, it was my second year really digging into technology integration, so I remember a lot (mostly because I have it all documented - thank you, Google!). I was a participant in the TILT staff development program, which entails 6 full days of Professional Leave, and therefore 6 full days of who-knows-what back at "home" in my classroom. The first day Mark was there, I knew I had stumbled into a 2nd-year-of-TILT-with-6-days-of-leave gold mine. Always a little nervous to return to school in the wake of a sub, I actually drove back to my building at the end of that day to see the damage I would have to repair the next day. I was ever so pleasantly surprised to find a very detailed, professionally written note, attached to which was a plain and simple business card advertising the guest teaching services of Mark Kane. Knowing I would need at least 5 more days of this kind of goodness, I contacted him right away. He kindly agreed to several more of the opportunities (to work with one of the best classes I've ever had), but informed me that he would be student teaching that spring, and would therefore be unavailable for the last several days. Glad for the expert help, I booked those days, plus a few bonus ones in between.
Never having actually met this person, I was glad to get the chance when Mark covered my class one November afternoon. I had signed up to present at *GASP* - an afternoon High School Google training (and yes, it was every bit as terrifying as I dreamed it would be). When the lunch hour came and it was time for me to pack up and head out to Skyview High School, Mark walked in for the start of his afternoon shift. We exchanged polite conversation, and he asked if it would be possible for him to come in and work/observe/team teach in my classroom for a week. YES, YES, absolutely YES. He was getting ready to student teach, after all, and I was getting ready to have my first student teacher that next year, and I couldn't see how this wouldn't be a win-win situation.
Needless to say, I was very impressed with Mark. What made him so different from any other sub I'd had (or any other student teacher I have ever had!) was his level of professionalism. There was no doubt that he was in it for the real thing - to teach students. Even as a volunteer, he never hesitated to go and sit with a student, to help my struggling mathematicians with a problem, to read with a group, or walk around and actually learn something from the class. He taught a terrific social studies lesson in which he integrated technology like a pro (I believe it was TagGalaxy, to make the memory even weirder . . . ), and he even asked for feedback! Whoa. A newbie teacher who didn't already know everything?! Utter wackiness.
Among the fun parts of all of this was befriending the entire Kane family. It turns out that Mark's wife, Sara, was also in college, learning to "become" a teacher (note how I make fun of myself there, because neither of the Kanes needed to "become" teachers - they already were by instinct). I was fortunate to have Sara as a Junior Field student that following year. She, too, is a fabulous first grade teacher in Billings Public Schools, and for that, we are all so lucky!
And so, it gives me great pleasure to brag on this guy. What he has done for learners in his short time with Billings Public Schools has been astounding; and these learners aren't all of the first-grade nature. Mark himself applied and was accepted into TILT; he took on the responsibilities and commitments of a much more experienced teacher; he joined committees, he made presentations, he travelled . . . he put himself out there for others, and believe me others have learned! Both with and from Mark, other teachers have learned to put themselves out there, to take risks, and to take learning (and teaching) by its professional horns. Cool guy, amazing teacher. Thanks, Mark!
I'm so proud to have worked with this lady! I taught with June many years ago at Ponderosa Elementary, and have heard story after story of her positive influence on students. This video is a result of a recent observation by BPS' own Director of Indian Education for All, Jennifer Smith:
Way to go, June! You represent Arrowhead Elementary and Billings Public Schools so well!
Meet Lewis & Clark Middle School math teacher Michael Qualls. More than just your average guy, he multiplies the engagement in his class by adding in technology that takes his math lessons to the next quadrant!
What's even more, back in 2011, Michael was promoted to the rank of Major within the National Guard (check out this article from the Billings Gazette)! Michael credits his inspiration to an 8th grade teacher, which is probably why he pours his heart into his job working with middle schoolers.
We are proud to have Michael as a colleague, and his students are MAJORLY lucky to have him as a teacher!
"Good story Friday: You know I love teachers. Amy Leffler is our boy's teacher, and we knew that she would have a challenging year with him - yet she welcomed him with a big smile and open heart. We watched his grades start to come in this fall and felt pretty disappointed that he wasn't achieving what we thought was his potential. We showed up to our parent teacher conference ready to hear that our guy needed to buckle down and get with the program. We were ready to accept our part as well - that we probably weren't doing all we could to help him succeed in school. What happened instead was that Amy transformed our lives. She teared up and let us know that our son is special and we can't let school define him or his success - and we can trust her to help him find his way in a system that doesn't always favor kids like him. We are so lucky to have a teacher like Amy in our kid's life - and she inspired that kid to adjust and achieve - and make the A/B honor roll this week. May we all aspire to be a teacher like her - making a difference in our students lives - and their families."
-Jenny Combs, parent
I am a proud teacher in Billings Public Schools, home to over 16,000 students and 3,500 staff members. Students in Billings are creating and collaborating like never before thanks to the technology to which they have access, and their teachers are providing them with opportunities that will make them incredible community leaders one day soon!